Monday, February 5, 2018

Rocks In Their Heads All The Way Up

The "turtles all the way down" slogan I referred to the other day is a popular locution amone pop atheists,  I don't think they realize it's an attack on the idea of an infinite regress even as some current atheist heroes, such as Sean Carroll try to revive the steady-state universe that atheists have long favored, in an attempt to get away from the Big Bang and an absolute beginning of the universe by inventing various scenarios of a universe or, worse, a multiverse ensemble, that fluctuates in and out of existence, in order to get away from the question of why the one and only universe we know seems to have had an absolute beginning, matter, space, time, the whole thing.  Of course the reason they don't like that is the reason that, after the origin of the universe in a Big Bang was first theorized, lots of cosmologists and physicists and others hated the idea because it corresponds more than they like with the description of the origin of the universe in Scripture.  That's the reason that as recently as into the 1990s one of the high priests of materialist-atheist scientism, John Maddox, the editor of Nature, about as prestigious a journal of science as there is, railed against the Big Bang, sounding like a deranged political fanatic than a measured thinker in the pages of that august publication.

So, the common use of "turtles all the way down" is generally incompetent, as is the widely repeated belief that Bertrand Russell heard some little old lady (or man, in some iterations of the urban legend) give that as an explanation of a flat Earth.  But, from what I've read, he never claimed that, he rather mockingly cited a Hindu belief roughly equivalent to the Greek myth of Atlas, only with animals.  Only that's not what he said, at all, as you can read in his famous essay, Why I Am Not A Christian.

I for a long time accepted the argument of the First Cause, until one day, at the age of eighteen, I read John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, and I there found this sentence: ‘My father taught me that the question, “Who made me?” cannot be answered, since it immediately suggests the further question, “Who made God?” ’ That very simple sentence showed me, as I still think, the fallacy in the argument of the First Cause. If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, ‘How about the tortoise?’ the Indian said, ‘Suppose we change the subject.’ The argument is really no better than that. There is no reason why the world could not have come into being without a cause; nor, on the other hand, is there any reason why it should not have always existed. There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our imagination. Therefore, perhaps, I need not waste any more time upon the argument about the First Cause.

Russell's use of the argument here is dishonest because the premise "If everything must have a cause," has never been the monotheistic understanding of God because God isn't a "thing" and didn't have a beginning.  God could well serve as a "First Cause" if you wanted to "prove" the existence of God from that argument, something that some forms of Hinduism - which David Bentley Hart has argued are properly considered monotheistic in the same sense - also hold about the overall Creator who is distinctly different from the "gods" of the polytheistic pantheon, which are created in their mythologies.  God, as understood in  Jewish-Christian-Islamic-etc. monotheism is not created, is not a thing in the created universe, God is the Creator of the Universe.  All Russell did was choose to pretend not to know that so he could dismiss the argument.  I don't make the argument because, as I said yesterday, believing in God is, in the end a matter of choice, a choice to be persuaded.  As can be seen in Russell's choice to ignore something he obviously would have understood - he was one of the masters of logic, for crying out loud - to give a dishonest and superficial line to the atheists of the English Speaking Peoples.

Though Russell made rather crude and dishonest use of the "turtles" stuff, he was no where near as dishonest as atheists put their assertions about what he said to.  I think he'd be embarrassed if he knew how foolish they tend to be.   You look at how it's cited by even some atheists held in great esteem in intellectual circles and it's pretty clear THEY NEVER READ THE ESSAY, they probably read a misleading clip or, worse, another citation by distortion of it.

And, even worse, a lot of atheists seem to want to attribute it to William James when he made a far more sophisticated and non-chauvinistic use of a "rocks all the way down" fable that if you want to hold that there are objectively true morals then you have to have an absolute source of that morality, you can't just cite an infinite regression of "shoulds,"  from his far superior essay, Rationality, Activity and Faith.

For the absolute moralists, on the contrary, we can never explain a given should except by reference to a still deeper should.  The moral judgments is irreducible, and independent of all judgments of fact.  It applies to the subjective interests as well as to the phenomena which they measure.  Not only is it best for my social interests to keep my promise, but best for me to have those interests and best for the cosmos to have this me.  Like the old woman in the story who described the world as resting on a rock, and then explained that rock to be supported by another rock, and finally when pushed with questions said it was "rocks all the way down," he who believes this to be a radically moral universe must hold the moral order to rest either on an absolute and ultimate should or on a series of shoulds "all the way down.

Which is not an argument against the reality of morality, it's an argument that you can't get durable moral holdings, held to be truth without "an absolute and ultimate should" which would have to have its origin in someone who determined that as there is no source of that outside of a conscious mind. So, I'm very, very sure that any materialist-atheist of the scientistic variety who cites William James in that way never read the essay he said it in or even the paragraph or section he put it in.

I don't have the time right now to go through the essay, having read it through once, it will take a lot longer to do it anything like justice,  William James was a far deeper thinker than Russell, especially when Russell was writing as a missionary of materialistic atheism.  I will, though, take this out because it shows that more than a hundred thirty years ago the very same lines of atheist ideology within science and other academic fields was carrying on in exactly the same irrational ways they are today, the new atheism is really Victorian age scientistic materialism reheated, yet again.  There's nothing new in the static world view of atheism.

The wrath of science against miracles, of certain philosophers against the doctrine of free will, has precisely the same root: dislike to admit any ultimate factor in things which may rout our precision or upset the stability of our outlook .

I think he would have better said they hated the ideas of miracles and free will because it routed their precision and upset the stability of their outlook, they being atheists.  That is seen in virtually the entire academic scene whenever atheists make some assertion, even within science, that approaches the ideas of religion.  They've succeeded in inserting their ideology even within science, such fields as cosmology and evolutionary science - not to mention psychology and the other quasi and pseudosciences.  And they've been allowed to do that because that ideology  hegemonistically, aggressively and threateningly dominates intellectual life.

And, from what I've read, the "turtles" and "rocks" story goes back even farther, used every which way but, it would seem, not often the way the original point of the story intended.

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